Content Marketing

How To Create an External Linking Strategy for Old Content


Published: September 1, 2022 (Updated: October 24, 2022)

A search engine optimization (SEO) plan doesn’t apply to only new content. SEO also applies to your older content. Something you wrote a year ago could be as valuable to your audience today if you give it the right updates. One optimization tactic to apply to older website content is external linking. Today, we’re covering how to plan an external linking strategy for old content. Here’s what you’ll learn in this guide:

Do you need help with your external linking strategy for new content instead? CopyPress has you covered. Check out the article How To Create an External Linking Strategy for New Content.

How To Create an External Linking Strategy for Content Optimization

Use the following steps to get started on external link optimization:

1. Choose Content

You likely won’t update all of your content at the same time. The bigger the volume you have, and the smaller your team size, the longer it would take to go through everything. There are a few ways to choose which content you should optimize first. Underperforming content based on your analytics is a good place to start. If any of your pieces aren’t getting the traffic, reach, or engagement you expect, they’re worth revisiting and sprucing up.

Outdated content is another suitable candidate. If the information or topic is outdated, the links are likely to be outdated too. Finally, any content developed without a linking strategy is good for a revisit. With this type of content, you won’t be fixing something that already exists. Instead, you’ll create a new external linking strategy from scratch where there wasn’t one before.

2. Do a Thorough Read-Through

Give the content a thorough read-through and make a list of all the external links already in the piece, if any. The list alone should give you an idea if you might be over- or under-linking within the content. When reading through, also note places where you could include links. These can be opportunities to connect your audience to other valuable resources on the topic. Once you understand the focus and direction of the article, it’s time to analyze the link usage within the piece.

3. Analyze the Links’ Purposes

Refer to your list of links already in the piece and determine their purpose. Any time you send people away from your own website or content, it has to be for a good reason. Do your links cite sources? Do they share resources your brand doesn’t have, like data studies or statistics? Are they benefiting the reader or are they just there to hit an arbitrary quota? Every external link you share should have a clear purpose. If it doesn’t, then it’s a link you should cut as you optimize.

External links on your site aren’t backlinks for your content. You don’t get a gold star or a “vote” from Google for each one. They help establish credibility and topic relevance, but there’s no reward for having the most. There’s also no reward for having the least. Having zero external links in a piece likely means you don’t have an external linking strategy at all. You’re starting from scratch. In that case, you can skip ahead to step five of this guide and kick off your strategy with research.

Related: 8 Best Practices for External Linking To Boost SEO

4. Check Link Health

Sometimes links break. For external links, broken ones within your content likely aren’t your fault. You can’t control if another website deletes an article or changes the URL on a video. But just because it’s not your fault doesn’t mean Google and other search engines won’t punish you for it. Leaving broken links in your content hurts your rankings and pushes you further down the SERPs. And we already know that means losing visibility and organic traffic from your audience. Avoid these pitfalls by checking the health of all the external links you want to keep in your content.

You can do this manually. Simply click the links within the live content, or copy and paste the URLs into your web browser. If all the links go to an actual page, and the right content, then you’re all set. If you get a “404 Page Not Found,” “400 Bad Request,” or “Bad Host” error, it’s a broken link.

What happens if a link still works, but now it goes to different content or irrelevant content? You’ve found another problem. These aren’t broken links, but they’re no longer serving your content the right way. Make note of all broken or misdirected links so you can fix and replace them in upcoming steps.

If you’re wondering if there’s an easier way to find broken links in your content, there are plenty of automated tools to help. Semrush has one that runs a full website scan to check, audit, and fix all your broken links. Many browser extensions also allow you to check broken links on a page-by-page basis.

5. Do Some Research

By now, you’ve either found that you don’t have any external links in your content, or they’re broken and outdated. To fix either situation, you have to do your research. If you don’t have any links in your piece, refer to the list you made during the content overview. Where in the text could you add links to provide more value to your audience? And what information would be most beneficial to them?

Use these questions to guide your research and review different content types—think videos, infographics, and podcasts—that can add more value. Here are some actions to take when researching:

  • Find alternative resources. Most times, broken links come from another website moving its content without putting a redirect in place. Do a site or internal search for that website to see if you can find a new version or something similar.
  • Start from scratch. If the original content is gone for good, you’ll need to start your linking strategy from scratch. Use search engines and expertise to find high-quality resources for linking in your content.
  • Avoid linking to direct competitors. It’s always key to link to authoritative sources, but if you link to a direct competitor, you create a backlink for that brand. And the more backlinks you give to competing brands, the better their content performs in search.

6. Add and Remove Links

Remove the links that no longer serve you and put new, better ones in their places. These kinds of updates signal to Google and other search engines that your site is fresh.

Updating old links doesn’t just affect optimized content. Any updates and changes you make regularly to your domain boost the performance across your entire site. That means more visibility and attention for everything on your site that search engines index and rank on SERPs.

7. Track the Performance

The purpose of optimization is to improve your pieces. If you don’t have a tracking plan in place, you won’t know if they’re performing better or not. Just as you tracked your pieces before optimization to see their audience response, check them after. More importantly, use that original data as your control data. Compare it to prior metrics pre-optimization and look for results like:

  • Increases in organic traffic
  • Higher SERP rankings
  • Longer time spent on pages
  • Higher click-through rates

If you see an increase in all your good metrics and a decrease in bad ones, like bounce rate, then the optimization did its job. If you don’t notice a change, or somehow your content performs worse after optimization, then it’s time to start back at the beginning.

Develop a new strategy or conduct more analysis. No matter the outcome, don’t get discouraged. SEO is a fickle practice. As long as you’re not receiving penalties from Google, you can fix an external linking strategy or a misplaced content optimization. It just takes time, research, patience, and the right data.

Is Creating a Link Strategy the Only Optimization I Need?

Fixing and updating your external linking strategy is just one type of optimization tactic to use to make your content better. Content optimization is a multi-faceted process that makes your brand’s content the best it can be, no matter when you created it. Aside from strengthening your external linking strategy in each piece, here are other optimization techniques to use to improve your old content:

  • Keyword optimization: Choose keywords that have a better potential for ranking, such as high search volume and low competition ones.
  • Structural optimization: Ensure that you’ve set up and organized the on-page elements of your content for readability and the best possible user experience.
  • Media optimization: Add or edit visuals and interactive media to increase engagement and user accessibility within your content.
  • Internal linking optimization: Similar to an external linking strategy, make sure all internal links work and can provide value to the audience within the context of the content.
  • Technical optimization: Check that all the elements of your web spaces work properly, such as faster page load times or sitemap accessibility for bots and crawlers.
  • Topic optimization: Do competitor research to discover if you’re covering a topic thoroughly enough. Use the opportunity to create new content in line with the search intent of your target audience.

Looking for a simple way to start your content optimization? Start with our content analysis tool and dig into the areas of your content strategy you can improve right away. Find out what content performs the best and what isn’t. Then use these topic gaps to target valuable keywords and SEO opportunities.


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Why Should You Optimize Older Content?

Any SEO plan has room for content optimization. But why is this a good practice in the first place? Updating older content is essential to make sure all information is up-to-date, topics are relevant, and links are working. Working links are crucial, so many brands often start with link-building strategies as part of their approach to optimizing older content. Take a look at some more reasons to optimize older content and external links:

Is Your Content Relevant?

Even evergreen content has the potential to become outdated at some point if it’s live online long enough. Some information becomes outdated more quickly in fast-moving fields or situations. For example, in journalism, stories may update and change by the minute. In marketing, technology, and SEO, content may become irrelevant when a new program, tool, or update releases to the public. Any date-stamped content—like “Best Visual Marketing Trends of 2022″—also becomes outdated when that year is over.

But that doesn’t mean any of this content has to fade away and stop bringing your brand and website traffic or attention. Updating your content regularly allows it to stay relevant longer. Even for fast-changing topics. Take that “Best Visual Marketing Trends” article. You can change the date and update it each year by checking the accuracy of the information and providing new insights to your audience. These types of updates provide new opportunities to expand your external linking strategy with new and current resources.

Is Your Content Performing Well?

If your content is underperforming, it’s a perfect candidate for optimization. What you consider underperforming may differ for every business. Performance is relative to your keywords, industry, and audience. Everyone wants to rank in the top spot on the first search engine results page (SERP). But if your content is going head-to-head with pieces from big-name brands like Amazon or Tesla, you’re going to have a more difficult time getting there.

Even if an optimization can’t send you to the top of a SERP, it still can help improve your SEO. Updating your content helps improve metrics like your traffic and click-through rate (CTR). When more people look at your content and click on it, they’re more likely to share it. When that happens, you earn more backlinks, another signal to Google that your content is valuable and high-performing.

Related: External Links vs. Backlinks: What’s the Difference?

Has Your Business Changed?

If you change your business or offerings, you likely need to update your content. This happens when you use a new style or tone for your brand or you no longer offer a service you used to. These things make your content outdated and make false promises to your audience.

For kicks, let’s say you’re a content agency that used to offer infographic design services. After a year-long audit, you found that the return on investment (ROI) for that service was low. You decided to cut it from your business model. Without updates and optimization, some potential leads may find your content organically in search and try to place orders. Then they find out you don’t offer that service anymore, which could lead to angry leads or bad reviews. Updating the content and links prevent these kinds of situations from happening.

Does the Content Have Mistakes?

Content full of spelling and grammar mistakes doesn’t just look unprofessional, it ruins the reading experience. If your team is publishing content with typos and grammatical errors, it influences trust in your brand. Broken links work the same way for search engines. The entire goal of search engines is to determine the connection between your content and other sources. This info helps search engines provide the best content to the user during a search.

Think of a broken link as a road closure. This closure leads to a dead end. And in the case of web links, no one likes a dead end just as they’re making connections. The results? Search engines won’t index your site the right way, pushing your content further down in SERPs. And the lower the ranking, the less traffic you get.

Are You Linking to the Best Resources?

Optimization isn’t just about getting rid of or fixing what’s “bad” in your content. It’s also the opportunity to add to things and make them better. This is especially true for your linking strategy. Even if you have up-to-date and live links in your old content, that doesn’t make them the best resources. Think about it this way. The best video on using Google Analytics six months ago may not be the best one now.

Optimization gives you the chance to evaluate every link you’ve used and every resource you chose and decide its quality and value for your audience. If you’ve found better, more in-depth, or clearer resources since publishing a piece, don’t be afraid to change them. The better the information you provide, the happier you make your readers.

Related: When To Use External Links in Your Content To Boost SEO

Are You Targeting the Right Keywords or Topics?

Sometimes, underperforming or outdated content just isn’t targeting the right keywords or topics. It’s not that the piece is bad or even that it’s not valuable. It’s just not in the right place to grab the attention of the right audience. You might have a great piece about how to create an infographic. But if you’re not using the right words within your text, or the right external links and anchor text, nobody will ever find it.

Understanding keyword research, topic research, and search intent helps you make sure you’re targeting the right words and phrases. That ensures your content appears relevant for the right searches. This kind of optimization especially can help boost your SERP positioning and increase your organic traffic.

Does Content Meet SEO Best Practices?

SEO best practices and expectations change fast. With Google and other search engines releasing new algorithm updates all the time, something you wrote last week could already be outdated for SEO. That example is a little extreme, but not impossible.

Since search engines rarely release specifics of their algorithm updates, it’s important to check your trusted sources. Signing up for industry alerts, news updates, and trending topics allows you to stay on top of the most recent guidelines. Need a resource you can count on? The CopyPress newsletter keeps you on top of SEO best practices and the latest Google rollouts.

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